A review of Tactics. By Gregory Koukl.
Zondervan, 2009 (Available in Australia at Koorong Books)
Well-known Christian apologist Greg Koukl here offers a popular-level approach to defending the faith. The California-based apologist has been arguing for the rationality of the Christian faith and helping believers make a stand for several decades now.
Those who have heard Koukl speak, or listened to his radio broadcasts, will not find much new material here. But for those of us who prefer the written word to the oral, this is a nice compilation of his methods and experiences.
All his effective methods for engaging with non-believers are featured here, including his well-known Columbo tactic. This refers to the American television detective, Lieutenant Columbo, who solved crimes and caught out criminals by the clever use of questioning.
Of course this method is at least as old as the Socratic Method, and as modern as the apologetics of Francis Schaeffer who sought to find the point of tension between a non-believer’s presuppositions and the real world. Koukl uses these methods to help believers offer an amicable but potent deconstruction of the non-believer’s worldviews.
The use of questions is helpful for a number of reasons. First, it is far less threatening and less combative than straight-out challenges or assertions. Also, it helps to get your non-Christian friend to think more carefully about his assumptions and beliefs. Also, it puts the burden on the non-believer to justify his or her beliefs.
Along with a detailed examination of such methods, Koukl offers plenty of personal stories and real-life examples. His is not simply a theoretical form of apologetics, but something that works quite well in everyday encounters. These stories help to flesh out the principles that Koukl is describing.
For example, take the suicide tactic, which deals with self-refuting views. In this method you simply help a person to see the logical inconsistencies of their own position. He mentions a debate he had with an unbeliever on the question of objective truth. Koukl of course argued the case that objective truth exists, while his opponent took the opposite case.
As his opponent presented an array of facts and arguments to make his case, it was easy for Koukl to point out the obvious: in denying that truth exists, he was using truth, logic and arguments to make his case. He simply refuted his own position, in other words. Koukl did not have to do anything other than to show the self-refuting nature of his opponent’s argument.
Or consider his encounter with a witch at a shop in Wisconsin. Noticing her pentagram, he asked her what it signified. When she said she was into Wicca, Koukl asked, ‘oh, so then you are against abortion?’, since they are supposed to respect all of life.
When she said no, he pressed her on this, again by the use of carefully placed questions. When she was pressed as to when it is right for a person to kill a baby, she mentioned the case of incest. Without directly challenging her, but by indirectly pointing out the silliness of her argument, he got her thinking:
“Hmm. Let me see if I understand. Let’s just say I had a two-year-old child standing next to me who had been conceived as a result of incest. On your view, it seems, I should have the liberty to kill her. Is that right?”
Koukl had simply driven her to the logical conclusion of her own premises. He exposed the weakness in her thinking, or “took the roof off” her worldview, as Koukl, following Schaeffer, calls it. In pressing ideas to their logical conclusion, we can demonstrate their absurdity or incoherence.
As it might be clear by now, much of this book is really just a simplified and popularised version of courses in logical thinking, and how to spot logical fallacies. The law of non-contradiction, for example, and various informal fallacies such as ad hominem, red herrings and straw men arguments, are all well known topics in logic which Koukl uses to good effect.
But what he has done is to explain these concepts in an easy to understand fashion, and provide numerous helpful illustrations and examples. But this is much more than a textbook in logical thinking. The aim of apologetics is of course to win people to the Gospel.
Apologetics is really just a type of pre-evangelism, dealing with people’s objections and misunderstandings of the faith. The aim as always is not just to win arguments but to win people.
But sometimes the only way a person can be won over is by dealing with his concerns and criticisms. This book helps every one of us in how to politely, winsomely yet powerfully deal with these various objections and questions, and help people see not just the shortcomings of their own worldviews, but the coherence and consistency of the Christian worldview.
As a popular-level, yet effective, resource on learning how to hold your own when dealing with non-believers, this is a most helpful volume indeed, and it deserves to be widely read.
7 Replies to “A review of Tactics. By Gregory Koukl.”
It is important to mention that not everybody will be persuaded by logic alone. The most terrifying realization to me in the last couple of years about the current state of the world is that there are people who can be shown the blazing light truth one inch from their eyes but will still cling to their beliefs. And then, they will call themselves ‘rational’ and/or ‘honest’! Truly Jesus was right about men loving darkness. I used to think everybody had a willingness to respond to truth, even at personal cost. Not so. (I admit, I’m not entirely consistent here either – but I hope each day is better than the one before as God works on me)
The most dramatic example of that to me is to watch people disengage from an argument when their ideas are simply followed through to their logical conclusions. Inevitably the response is personal abuse, to change the subject or to run away. Your blog, Bill, has countless examples! But yes, people must still be handled with grace and respect the way Jesus did. (And God must be allowed to do what only He can too.) This book sounds interesting.
Imagine how different the world would be if people truly did love truth…
Yes I agree that logic in and of itself is not sufficient. Koukl would also agree. Without the work of God, no argument and no amount of logic will succeed. But we are called to share the good news, and to show the reasonableness of Christianity’s truth claims. As Koukl says. “Our job is to communicate the gospel as clearly, graciously, and persuasively as possible. God’s job is to take it from there. . . . Some will respond, and some will not. The results are his concern, not mine.”
But you are quite right to say that in our postmodern times, sadly, truth and logic don’t amount to much for many people. But truth is important, and we must contend earnestly for the truth, knowing that truth will set people free.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
You might also never know how much sinks in even it it doesn’t immediately show. I once had a telephone call from an atheist responding to a letter I had published in the paper. I argued that although I received a constant diet of anti-Christian messages from the media, I also read on the other side of the argument. I asked him how much he had read from pro-Christian sources. The question was ignored as he continued his line of argument. I repeated the question. It was ignored again. As he was paying for the STD call and kept saying how he couldn’t afford it, I left it there, not certain if he had actually heard the question or was deliberately ignoring it.
A few minutes after the call ended, he called back. “You know that question you asked? … I remembered that I’ve got some tapes of some shows that were on SBS about the Jesus Seminar”.
Ignoring that an SBS show about the Jesus seminar hardly qualifies as “pro-Christian” material, what struck me was that he had heard the question, and had deliberately ignored it because he had no answer.
I like the questioning method thus described by Koukl.
About 20 years ago on a few lazy Sunday afternoons I used to go to the Domain in Sydney where they have soapbox speakers trying their best. At the Domain, there were Jehovahs, Christian Scientists, athiests and so on.
Father Peter Little SJ (SJ means Society of Jesus aka Jesuit) used to use the questioning method. He would put one hand under his chin and the fingers of that same hand used to sit on his cheek thoughtfully. FR Peter used to ask the athiests and the others to clariy what they meant and then offer to expalin to them what he thought they meant. Often the speakers would get confused and either listen to the priest or begin to get frustrated or even curse him. One funny episode I remember was one Irishman who screamed at the priest that the priests had conned the people and ruined Ireland and that if he wanted to debate he should remove his Roman collar. Fr Peter removed his collar and put it into his coat immediately to the laughs from the audience. The Irishman began to curse the priest and stormed off, no longer wishing to debate.
Here is an example of the imagination of Peter Little who wrote 40 years ago on the issue of marriage and the Divine plan of procreation within marriage: http://web.archive.org/web/20010629202206/cts.bvm.com.au/australia/acts1555.html
Another clergyman, Fr James Ware S.M. (a Marist) used to use the phrase “could you tease that out for me a bit more” in order to get someone to explain what they meant.
A question: where do you stand on the issue of presuppositionalism versus evidentialism, and the alleged implication that the latter yields only a ‘probable’ conclusion. e.g. that God exists, that Christianity is true etc?
I wonder whether the issue is just another storm in a teacup, but I would be interested to hear your views.
From your exposition, it seems that Koukl would stand in the presuppositional camp. Is that a fair conclusion?
I believe that the apologetic task would include the cumulative case for God’s existence. So the classical apologetic arguments, along with evidential approaches and presuppositional means are all part of the craft. I see them working together, and don’t believe we have to choose just one approach. And in a sense they would all only lead to the probability of God’s existence.
Koukl’s method would primarily be presuppositional, but he would not eschew other forms when of use.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
I thought Tactics was a great book, thanks for the thoughtful review.